As a child I remember hours upon hours of free time devoted to nothing but make believe and play. Some of this play would happen with other kids, mostly my siblings as we lived quite a distance from our nearest neighbor. But a lot of this play would happen in my own brain by myself in the yard and the woods surrounding my parent’s house. This is where I would pretend I had magical powers, pretend I was a princess, pretend I was a mom and of course I would don much more outrageous personas in order to “try” them on also. I would be the mean girl at school, I would be the mean mom, I would be the evil sorceress from a different planet. All of these good and bad personas helped me figure out the world, right and wrong, good and bad.
I look at kids who are in their elementary years and moving into junior high and I wonder, do they have time to play? With soccer, dance, Spanish class, religion class, homework and of course the chores that every parent is lining up for their kids, when do they play. All of these things are great pursuits, but when do kids have time to just be kids and run in the great outdoors? A lot of my play happened when I was tiny, but a huge majority of my pretend play happened when I was in third, fourth and fifth grade and even upwards to middle school. I remember very distinctly talking to myself when I was in high school as a way to work through a conversation that I was going to have when I got to school. With a teacher, with a friend and with boys who wanted to be more than friends – in a way this was play also.
According to the February 2009 Scientific American cover story “The Serious Need for Play”, “kids who enrolled in play-oriented preschools are more socially adjusted later in life than are kids who attended play-free preschools where they were constantly instructed by teachers. By age 23, more than one third of kids who had attended instruction-oriented preschools had been arrested for a felony as compared with fewer than one tenth of the kids who had been in play-oriented preschools.” Wow, I mean that is serious business. 33% of kids who attended a non-play oriented preschool were arrested for felonies by age 23, I repeat that because it seems huge. My immediate reaction is perhaps, play makes children smarter and more creative. This creativity may be what is keeping some kids from getting arrested for those felonies and other from getting caught with their hand in the cookie jar! By all means, let your kids play so that they too can be creative rule breakers! Just kidding, I truly believe that play with other kids helps children understand societal rules and norms as well as so many other benefits of learning self control, relieving stress, fighting obesity and the list goes on.
And all of this play isn’t supposed to involve an adult. Who knew, I get more time for Oprah, I mean for cleaning those floors of course!? Kids actually learn more when they play by themselves or with other kids. They have to use more verbal skills to communicate with their three year old sister than they have to when they communicate with their parents who can at the ripe old age of 35 fill in all of the blanks and understand when they mispronounce “white” and say “wipe”. (One of the cutest words Mia still mispronounces, use it in a sentence, trust me it is cute.) They are more creative with rules when adult rules aren’t being forced down on them and they feel less inhibited to be different pretend characters.
Happy Wednesday – and try it out today, send your kids out and tell them to PLAY!